Date: 18 Aug 1961
Place: Cannon Street, Middlesbrough
John Joseph Hunt was stabbed in Cannon Street, Middlesbrough on Friday 18 August 1961.
His death started a weekend of violence and hooliganism in Cannon Street. The unrest was described as a race riot and crowds flocked to the street and stoned shops and set fire to a cafe owned by a coloured man. It was said that the police had charged with drawn truncheons before the riot was quelled.
A 25-year-old coloured Arab man, a crane driver, was charged with John Hunt's murder, however, he was cleared at the York Assizes after it was heard that there was insufficient evidence.
John Hunt had been a Roman Catholic and had lived in Ferndale Avenue in Brambles Farm. He had been an apprentice moulder.
His funeral was held at Corpus Christi Church in The Greenway, Thorntree, Middlesbrough on 23 August 1961. A crowd of about 50 people was said to have watched and waited outside the church whilst a half-hour requiem mass was conducted and that both uniformed and plain-clothed police mingled with the crowd. Following the mass a funeral procession then went off to Thorntree Cemetery where a crowd of about 100 people waited. John Hunt's coffin was carried to the grace side by four of his cousins. There were said to have been about 20 wreaths lain, one of which was from someone in Cannon Street.
It was reported that after the funeral the crowd dispersed quietly although a police patrol car remained for a short time.
The riots in Cannon Street had continued on to the night before John Hunt's funeral, but it was reported that following his funeral there were no fresh incidents in the Cannon Street area which was heavily patrolled by the police.
Following the events it was reported that the Pakistan Foreign Office had conveyed to the British High Commission in Karachi its 'anxiety' over the riots.
The man that was tried for his murder was a 25-year-old crane driver that had lived in Church Street, Middlesbrough and had been born in Aden.
The prosecution said, 'This is a case of an Englishman being stabbed in the street by a coloured man whom we say was the crane driver'.
He had been arrested by the police within a few minutes of the stabbing as he was running away with a crowd behind him. The prosecution said, 'Just before he was seized by the police, the crane driver tried to throw away a flick knife, the blade of which matches the size of the wound'.
It was heard that John Hunt had been drinking during the day and had had about seven pints of beer.
Two girls later came across a friend of his either sitting or lying down in an alley and he told them that he had been set upon by some coloured men in Gilkes Street and had been knocked down and kicked. The friend, who had lived in Millbrook Avenue, Brambles Farm, later said that he had been near a shop in Duke Street when he was attacked by four or five coloured men. He said that he was knocked down but that he ran off towards the baths and met John Hunt and that when he later went back with him that John Hunt asked him, 'Is this one of them?'. He said that a man was approaching but that he could not see his face. He said that the next thing was that John Hunt was holding his stomach saying, 'He has knifed me'.
The prosecution said, 'These four people, John Hunt, his friend and the two girls, unwisely you may think, all decided to go back to Cannon Street, where they had been in a cafe earlier on, to see if they could find any of the coloured men, who, according to the friend, had attacked him. They were out looking for a coloured man'.
It was said that when they got to the corner of Cannon Street that the crane driver was the only coloured man there although there were lots oof people hanging about at that time of night.
The prosecution said, 'What seems to be common ground is that Hunt said to his friend directly he saw the crane driver, 'Is he one of them?' His friend said, 'I don't think so''.
The prosecution said, 'The girls say that there was no provocation at all, and this is all that happened. But the friend said that Hunt told the crane driver to ---- off but that he did not do any more than that'.
It was then said that the crane driver then drew a knife from inside his coat and stabbed John Hunt in the stomach.
It was heard that after the stabbing that the crane driver ran away and that John Hunt and other people chased him but that John Hunt then fell to the ground and was taken to the hospital but died within an hour of arrival.
However, a police car that was in the street called upon the crane driver to stop and drew up beside him. He had run out of Cannon Street and into Newport Road and then into Denmark Street where the police stopped him.
The prosecution then said, 'As they caught hold of him he said, 'They will kill me, they will kill me'. He threw away a flick knife'. A policeman that seized the crane driver said that just before he did so he saw the crane driver throw away an object that struck the pavement with a metallic sound. He then said, 'I went back to the place where the object had been thrown away and found a closed flick knife'.
He was also said to have struggled violently. Other people then appeared and they identified the crane driver as the man who had stabbed John Hunt.
The policeman that caught hold of thee crane driver said that his patrol car had been sent because there had been a fight in Cannon Street but said that when they got there another police car crew had dealt with the incident. However, he said that when he got there he saw a crowd chasing a coloured man who he could not identify and that one of the crowd then collapsed and that when he went to help him he found that it was John Hunt and that he had a wound to his stomach.
When the crane driver was questioned via an Arabic interpreter and told that he was going to be charged with murder and shown the knife, he said, 'I don't know anything about it. I have never seen the knife before'.
Another witness, a man that had lived in Northumberland Street, Middlesbrough, said that he saw four coloured men throwing bottles near a coloured man's butcher's shop. He said that John Hunt was stabbed after the police had restored order and had left.
A woman that lived in Lord Street, Middlesbrough said that she saw the crane driver walking down Cannon Street and heard him say 'Goodnight' to John Hunt and his companions. However, she said that they didn't reply and that the crane driver then said, 'You think you are a big man. You think you walk around the town big'. She said that the taller of the two youths in the group then put up his fists as if to hit the crane driver and that the crane driver just stuck a knife in him.
However, after hearing the evidence at the York Assizes, the judge halted the trial on 2 November 1961 after private talks with counsel in what was described as an unexpected turn and the jury was dismissed and the trial was ordered to start again the following day. The judge later told the jury, 'A most unfortunate thing has happened in this trial. It does not reflect the slightest discredit on anyone of your number, but in my judgement it is incompatible with true justice that this trial should proceed any further before you as the jury. That means I now discharge you from giving a verdict in this trial and the trial of this man will start again tomorrow morning'.
The trial concluded on 7 November 1961 with the crane driver being found not guilty with the judge ruling that the evidence was not sufficient.
see National Archives - DPP 2/3324
see A Calendar Of Murder, Criminal Homicide In England Since 1957, Terence Morris and Louis Blom-Cooper
see Daily Mirror - Thursday 24 August 1961
see Newcastle Journal - Friday 03 November 1961
see Newcastle Journal - Thursday 24 August 1961
see Newcastle Journal - Thursday 14 September 1961
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Thursday 21 September 1961
see Leicester Evening Mail - Wednesday 13 September 1961
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 23 August 1961
see Belfast Telegraph - Thursday 14 September 1961
see Daily Herald - Tuesday 07 November 1961